tv Deutsche Welle Journal LINKTV December 11, 2012 11:00am-11:30am PST
(narrator) henry moore was the world's foremost sculptor for 40 years. his creative legacy in many ways exemplifies the cultural ambitions of his time. he was every bit as surprising and complex as his art, a miner's son who refused a knighthood, a sculptor who caught the public's interest with his drawings, d ryt with a common touch. (henry moore) recently, there was a book published on my work by some jungian psychologist, a very good writer named nauman.
i think the title was the archetypal world of henry moore and he sent me a copy, which he asked me to read. but after the first chapter i thought i better stop because it explained too much. and i thought it might stop me from ticking over if i went on and knew it all. (narrator) moore was english to the bone, he carved his reputation in english elm and boxwood, cumberland alabaster, and portland stone. when his art made him wealthy he turned to bronze and marble, but he never turned away from england. for all its rain and taxes it w h and he cleared a new path for english art. (anthony caro) you look at the history of english art, and it's pretty miserable after constable and turner and so on, and henry, somehow, was competing with braque and picasso and so on. you know, he was in that same league. and so it made people realize you can be an artist - and you can be english. (narrator) sculpture made him famous,
his celebrity enshrined in wax at madame tussaud's. other celebrities bought his works and enjoyed his company. (dorothy kosinski) i actually think that one has to consider quite seriously a very intriguing dilemma, and that is whether an artist's sense of direction and value and worth is that potentially obscured by fame? (narrator) henry moore was born in the mining town of castleford in 1898. his career began in 1921 when he left yorkshire with a scholarship to study at the royal college of art in london, a bastion of academic formalism. but he found his real inspiration on the other side of london at the british museum. he visited twice a week for years,
drawing objects from the museum's vast ethnographic collection, and drawing inspiration from them that would hava lifelong impact on his work. (henry morre) primitive art makes a straightforward statement. its primary concern is with the elemental and its simplicity comes from a direct and strong feeling, which is very different from being simple for the sake of being simple, which only leads to emptiness. (narrator) moore's student work wasn't always well-received. one royal college professor declared: "this student is feeding on garbage." the student was unapologetic and went to paris in 1922 to experience modern painting and sculpture firsthand. he was thunderstruck by the monumentality of the figures in czanne's bathers. "the figures," he said, "appeared to be sliced out of mountain rock." two years later moore graduated and joined the royal college sculpture faculty, a post that gave him three days a week for his own work.
and he looked hard at the work of contemporary artists like constantin brancusi, whose radical reduction of the human form would help to define the path of moore's sculpture. he found a kindred spirit in an older contemporary, the american expatriate sculptor jacob epstein, a passionate advocate of truth-to-material and the bold forms of tribal art. moore had his first one-man show in 1928. it won him favorable reviews and an important friend, the influential critic herbert read, who admired moore's direct carving and the organic evolution of his forms. later in 1928, another coup: the architect of the new london transport headquarters selected seven sculptors to decorate the building. one of them was jacob epstein, moore's mentor. epstein recommended moore, who completed west wind in january of 1929. later that year, moore created his first masterpiece,
bringing together his disparate sources in a single powerful work. it signaled a preoccupation that would consume him throughout his working life: the reclining female figure. i think what we see most clearly in that figure from leeds is the impact of a single object that really captured his imagination from ancient mexican art: the chacmool figure, and that really provides him with fodder, with inspiration, throughout his career. he carves figures which have a very peculiar positioning of the upraised knees together, but also the position of the head - a very alert, peculiar, eccentric position of the head, sort of away from the body, seemingly to emphasize that sense of the block of the stone. the "stoniness" - that's the word he used - the stoniness, the blockiness, the sort of rough eloquence of ancient mexican statuary.
(narrator) in 1930, moore wrote: "the sculpture that moves me most is full-blooded and self-supporting. its forms are completely realized and work as masses in opposition. it is strong and vital, giving off something of the energy of great mountains." (narrator) with success came increased self-assurance. in the summer of 1929, he married irina radetzky. moore stopped teaching and began to concentrate on his own work, and he sought out the leaders of surrealism. he met pablo picasso in paris. the ideas underpinning works like picasso's figure carrying a stone began to filter into moore's sensibility, emerging as the four-piece composition. alberto giacometti was also an influence. the swiss sculptor was exploring an abstract style - part biology, part geometry - in works like woman.
moore responded with a carved, abstracted head. he continued to explore surrealism and its exploration of what lay beyond the boundaries of logic and reason. moore joined the loose association of british artists who were influenced by surrealism. he showed works in the international surrealist exhibition of 1936 in london. but he was not quite a card-carrying surrealist. henry moore took from the continental avant-garde of his day whatever he liked the look of, and he played with it visually and turned it around to his own ends. in the '20s and '30s, he is at the experimental learning phase of his career. he is a major artist all his life - so even when he's learning, he produces major work. but that is a crucial period of experiment, both of innovation and also of synthesizing available options. (narrator) he was intrigued by the work of the french artist jean arp
and his exploration of the border between abstract and natural forms. the american, alexander calder, was also exploring those borders. his works struck a powerful chord in moore. the critic geoffrey grigson, noting the delicate balance in his work between surrealism and abstraction, called moore's work biomorphism. the term biomorphism suits moore absolutely perfectly because it signals that his preoccupation is poised somewhe between the surreal and the abstract. and it also describes beautifully the sense that we have in moore that the organism has laws of growth of its own. it's following some kind of universal law but it's not a species that we know. (narrator) throughout his long working life, moore collected natural forms and kept them near his workplace.
he placed his own works side by side with objects that caught his eye: bones, shells, and flints. his own habits coincided with surrealism's interest in the found object and the creative possibilities of unexpected juxtapositions. the fusion of front and back, internal and external spaces, had been one of moore's goals since the early '30s. tunneling holes through heavy masses was a theme that preoccupied him for many years. in the late 1930s, he merged mathematical models he had seen at the science museum in london with early surrealist forms, leading to a series of stringed pieces. the works were a breakthrough for moore - literally. he punched through the masses and looked through strings in a new way that allowed him to see forms within forms.
that interplay between the interior and exterior fascinated him. he explored it in several works and photographed them from several angles to gauge the impact of different perspectives. throughout the '30s moore sifted new influences and folded them into his preoccupations with the human figure, seeking out the abstract in shapes drawn from nature. one of the most crucial elements of his work and an aspect of his development that really reveals him as a tremendously radical, innovative sculptor are his tabletop sculptures. we look at these works and the titles tell us "reclining figure" but what he's really done is reduce the figure to an assemblage of independent elements. (narrator) the second world war
introduced a dark strain into moore's work, but the war also created new and unexpected opportunities. the rationing of materials necessary for sculpture gh aeeling ofartionn.in r etcl newly appointed director of the war artists' advisory committee and a friend since the mid-thirties, commissioned moore as an official war artist. clark was attracted to moore's shelter drawings, huddled figures of civilians taking refuge in london's underground stations from the nighttime bombing. his duties as a war artist also took him back to castleford to the same pit his father had worked in, to document the miners' contribution to the war effort. carvs at won qte a difft nd of on filled his sketchbooks. the drawings were subtle works of art, done in a mixture of pen and ink, crayon, pencil, and gouache.
they were published in book form and caught the eye of a younger generation of artists, including bruce nauman. bruce nauman) they were so primitive in t materials well the images. i think th we very strong for me to look at because i was interested in drawing and then his use of crayon and gouache or watercolor was such a kindergarten use of media doinpe (nrae by british people, reached a new and wideaudience. -enaing e ocess that crthe shelter drawings. (narrator of documentary) on almost any night during a raid this figure might have been seen wandering about: henry moore the sculptor. here, perhaps, was the one artist most capable of immortalizing the stoic endurance and suffering of these people.
(narrator) forty-seven years old at the end of the war, henry moore was talented and charismatic, perfectly poised to become britain's leading artist. a retrospective exhibition at the museum of modern art in new york in 1946 gave moore a foothold in the international arena. the exhibition moved on to chicago, san francisco, and australia. but moore's private life was far from glamorous. he'd found peace and a new home in the pastoral countryside of hertfordshire near theillagef ch hadham. it gave him space to work on larger pieces and to show em outdoors. his life was attuned to the optimism of a britain eager for peace and renewal after six years of war.
the birth of a daughter in 1946 was followed by a series of wks evoking family life. some critics began to detect a retreat from the groundbreaking pre-war work into sentimentality. in 1948, the london county council commissioned his first large work: the seven-foot-tall three standing figures of battersea park. despite moore's grinputation, the moreutting-edge ttersea figures unsettled a lot of people, including the painter alfred munnings, president of the royal academy, who voiced his criticisms on bbc radio. (sir arthur munnings) the sculptors today are sinking away into a fashion. you saw these things exhibited in battersea park, and god help us if all the race of women looked like that. (audience laughing) (narrar) munnings was t last major british stitutional voice to criticize henry moore's vision. the british council,
founded to promote the nation's art and artists internationally, selected moore to represent britain at the venice biennale in 1948. he won the first pze for foreign sculpture. there were other great artists who were either, seems to me, at the tail end of something or were too idiosyncratic to market internationally in the way that moore really seemed to fit with the modern movement across europe and the world. so an agency like the british council, looking to promote british culture and a new view of britain as a great power but coming to terms with the aftermath of the second world war, would listen to these voices telling them that moore is the great artist around at the moment. (narrator) that international stature permitted moore to work on a larger scale, a dream since the early '30s. he could now afford to hire assistants, including anthony caro, who would go on to a successful career
of his own, with works like the national gallery ledge piece, installed in 1978. i thought he was the most interesting sculptor around. and really, i went to ask him if i could work with him, work for him, because i'd had too traditional a studentship. a studentship, really, where we were taught by people who thought that art was about nymphs and fawns and generals on horses and that. i used to drive him into london from much hadham and we'd talk about art. we'd have little conversations about, you know, "did you go to the national gallery today?" "what did you see?" "what did you like?" "why did you like it?" "did you like that better than that?" things like that. play games like that. (narrator) his public persona continued to grow, he was articulate and eager to make the case for his art to a wider audience on bbc television. tell me about this one over here on the left.
oh, this is mexican, as well, but of a different culture from the other. and i think a very fine piece. the head, in particular, is what moves me very strongly. i think it has such a presence with it and a kind of almost hypnotic power. and perhaps, in the background, that may have had some connection with the head of the king in the king and queen group of mine, that i made five or six years ago. (narrator) by 1955, moore had been a major sculptor for 25 years. his stature made him the logical choice to create the central figure on the grounds of the unesco headquarters in paris, a massive reclining figure carved from travertine marble. sixteen-feet-long, it was the largest work he had ever done. moore's postwar work did occasionally venture
into darker thematic territory. the warrior with shield, his head gashed, his arm severed, recoils in horror - a meditation in bronze on the human cost of war. in this variation on the mother and child theme, the brutal encounter is matched by the sculpture's rough surface. in the '60s, the number of public commissions grew steadily, and his role as the acceptable face of contemporary sculpture was assured. his works also grew. he began to work increasingly in bronze, medi he'd first '30s. itgrr stng allowed him to connu his exploration vds alows beyond the endurance of stone and wood. hilargbronzes gan to apn fronof instituti the houses of parliament in london and the german state chancellery in bonn. moore became a friend of helmut schmidt, the west german chancellor.
moore's works were selected for universities and palaces of culture, including lincoln center in new york. at the pinnacle of his career, moore had outlived the antagonists of the previous generation, charmed the media, and silenced the critical voices of his day. the next generation of artists was more skeptical. (anthony caro) i remember an article which came out soon after i'd left him, where i was interviewed by somebody, and it was headed, the greatest living englishman. a lot of young people were very irritated by it, by the feeling that henry was getting too much attention. (narrator) and the times were changing. the '60s pop artists andwarhol and roy lichtenstein shunned the previous generation's idealism to engage with popular culture, ti w androny gh than idealism. minimalistlike danlavin developed a severe, abstract style that intrigued critics and artists. suddenly, henry moore seemed old hat.
british artist bruce mclean, a student of anthony caro, created a series of photographic parodies, placing his own body in positions that mocked moore's reclining figures. there's this sense of moore the artist, moore's work, perhaps even being obscured by list upon list of commission and prize. certainly, he was very proud of that. he always claimed to be somewhat perplexed by all the attention, and he certainly did evolve into an artist celebrity. i mean it's very rare that a sculptor's face graces the cover of time magazine. (narrator) bruce nauman created several works referring to moore: seated storage capsule for henry moore, henry moore bound to fail, and light trap for henry moore. (bruce nauman) it somehow had to do with capturing some sort of essence or ghost of henry moore.
when i had done a few commissions or been asked to do a few commissions and none of them worked out, and i'd put in quite a bit of effort, and then nothing ever happened. so i talked to claes oldenburg about how, i asked him how he set up his situation so he, did that happen to him or what happened? so he told me how he set up contracts to get paid at various stages of the work, and that anybody could get out from under the deal if they wanted to, but at least you weren't left with nothing. and the other thing he said is: "you have to remember that no matter what they tell you, they're looking for a medium-size henry moore on a base." (narrator) if young sculptors were frustrated by living in the long shadow he cast, architects like i. m. pei were dazzled by the man and the monumentality of his sculptures. henry. welcome. (narrator) pei incorporated moore's knife-edge mirror two piece into his designs for the national gallery in washington in 1976.
his working relationship with i. m. pei continued. in dallas, moore's three forms vertebrae was set in front of the city hall. completed in 1978, it was his last major public work. then in his 80s, henry moore worked on as long as his health allowed him to. he died in 1986 and was buried in the much hadham parish churchyard. some critics still wonder if moore's remarkable success mighhaept tin his n newer directions. others disagree. oh, i thinore's success was always good for hi it may be bad for his reputation, but it wasn't bad for him, his ego, and the ego that was needed to make his work. success was needed in order to fuel the possibilities of a work that appeals to every man. (narrator) henry moore's legacy is still being debated,
but what he achieved is beyond controversy. the early works combine a poetic gift for carving and a respect for craftsmanship that drew inspiration from a world wider and older than europe. his fascination with the body and the play of internal and external forms inspired radical abstractions, part dreamscape, part landscape. his later works, more ambitious in size, are essays in the old tradition of making art for public spaces, written in the new language of modernism. they bridged a gulf between contemporary art and popular taste that gratified henry moore, who came to see art as a public service as well as a private calling.